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Fake news, deepening divides of values and beliefs, and growing disillusionment within our government are all creating real threats to democracy. These problems are made worse by a significant lack of comprehensive and objective data about government actions and effectiveness. USAFacts is the first website that makes dense government data easy to find, visually digestible, and accessible for everyone.
USAFacts provides a data-driven portrait of the American population, our government's finances, and government's impact on society. Bringing to life over 30 years of American government data from 70 different agencies, USAFacts gives users the power to find, compare, and validate information that matters to them, all in one place.
The US government has over 90,000 jurisdictions and more than five trillion dollars in spending. Although many government agencies report data, they are all displayed on different websites and in varying formats. The absence of a valid, comprehensive source on government data hinders decision making and stifles informed debate, forcing many Americans to resort to shortcuts that reinforce their beliefs and deepen the echo chamber effect. USAFacts set out to combat this by becoming the first website that makes dense government data easy to find, visually digestible, and accessible for everyone.
Our client, Ballmer Group, is a non-profit founded by Steve and Connie Ballmer whose goal in creating USAFacts was to provide an unbiased and accessible source of information on the US government for users from all walks of life, whether they be curious citizens, journalists, or even policymakers. Over two years, Ballmer Group had collected, cleaned, and organized government data and created decks and reports to showcase. They asked Artefact to make an online data visualization tool to bring these data and reports to life in order to reach a broader audience and to create a more informed public discourse.
With this in mind, we wanted to design the website in a way that creates a new standard for how public data is displayed and shared, with the user experience at the center of the journey.
Data Analysis: We began by diving into Ballmer Group's data to better understanding their ambitions and gain valuable insights from the research they conducted, such as a survey they used to gather what types of data people would be more interested in.
Existing Resources: We analyzed existing data websites to gather inspiration and identify points of weakness that USAFacts could improve on. We also collected well-used and established criteria principles for data presentation, such as appropriate color usage, labeling, and even typefaces.
Prototyping: Next, we created a map using our client's preferred taxonomy based on the Constitution that would be the framework for organizing the website. From there, we created a prototype in InVision to further explore the site architecture and start to plan for areas that needed content and data.
User Testing: We conducted a series of subject matter expert interviews of our initial target audience. We also found testing with users on the website or InVision very helpful to understand preferred taxonomy and site structures.
The final website is designed with an understanding of how people process information, blending engagement and functionality to allow for self-guided exploration that maintains context for the user. Our designers created a cohesive set of data visualizations that makes complex data clearer and more comprehensible. These visualizations scale across the website, bringing disparate data sets under the same unified organization and design.
On the home page, government revenue is broken down by source and total spending is categorized according to the missions laid out in the Constitution. Each section expands to provide a more detailed explanation so that viewers can better understand the how and why behind government decisions. Data visualizations like flow diagrams and sparklines transform dense spreadsheets and convoluted charts into crisp, clean visuals so that numbers can be understood at a glance. Interactive elements like pop-up annotations and variable sliders help users digest the data and see changes over time.
While the goal of many data visualizations is to tell a story, the graphics in USAFacts are carefully designed to display accurate visualizations without any extra commentary so that people can draw their own conclusions. As the user explores the site, citations and fact-checking options are seamlessly embedded into the experience with simple swipes and clicks bringing up source information and additional statistics.
In a world flooded with data and opinion, USAFacts bridges the gap between data and meaning, action and impact, and people and government, answering the demand for a platform that provides more insight and visibility into how the government works:
· In the first 24 hours alone, the site received more than 2.5 million page views, demonstrating people's growing interest and demand for an objective source of information.
· Publications like The New York Times, Bloomberg Business Week, CBS, The Economist, and more have applauded the idea and need of USAFacts, with WIRED calling out how Artefact's smart design "has made dry facts and figures actually feel engaging."
· The design of USAFacts has already been recognized with several industry awards, including Fast Company Innovation by Design and Design Management Institute's Design Value Awards.